America Divided: Racism and dealing with racial tension in America

America Divided: Racism and dealing with racial tension in America.

As tensions continue to rise over race in America local experts say the community can unify and heal through conversation.

The urgency of change surrounding the American divide is a hot topic across the country and in West Michigan. A topic Strick Strickland, who serves as the president of the metropolitan Kalamazoo Chapter of the NAACP, said is hard to discuss without offending people.

"I don't know what it feels like to be the grandchild or the great-great grandchild of a former slave owner. But I know what the experience of being a grandchild of a share cropper is," said Strickland.

It is a sensitive issue some choose to avoid altogether despite America’s history.

Tim Ready, a professor of race and ethnic relation at Western Michigan University, has been studying racial inequalities for years.

"I think racial inequality has been a part of our history since its finding. So it is always there," said Ready.

Even though it is seen in headlines almost every day, racism is a word that most fear being associated with.

Psychologist Larry Beer said with that fear comes the assumption, by those who don't experience it, that racism may no longer exist.

"Sometimes it's the fear of saying something that might be interpreted in a different way than how you mean it and then you are labeled a racist," said Beer.

Beer said it is a difficult needle to thread.

"I think sometimes we are racist when we don't even know we are. Some people believe that there is not privilege to be a white male and we know that there are certainly privileges that go along with being a white male, but for those of us that have been white our whole life it is hard to understand what it is like," said Beer.

The issue is further complicated with the increase of racial controversies like kneeling in protest during the national anthem, police shootings of unarmed black men, and the fate of confederate monuments.

"I think we have to recognize that we are in this together. We have to come to grips and avoid the simplistic answers. We have to seek out valid information and not go for what somebody is posting on Facebook," said Ready.

The ongoing struggle with race has been Strickland's mission as president of the NAACP and he said it is an organization that inclusive.

“For the first 50 or 60 years of our organization, our CEOs and founders and presidents were white men. So I am glad to know there is a vast population of people who don’t necessarily feel that way about this organization and other organizations who are doing work to bridge the gap," he said.

Strickland said the cross-racial conversation has become more necessary and common.

“I think that if there is anything I’m grateful for, in regards to the current administration of Donald Trump, it’s that it has sparked the conversation and really pulled the robes off and allowed people to see what we have been talking about for decades within our organization," he said.

But how do we confront face-to-face encounters involving race? How do we have healthy conversations to bridge the divide?

“If you ask somebody in a kind and respectful way, ‘what’s it like for you’ and just take the chance to listen. What’s it like for you being African-American? Do you experience any racism and prejudice and how do you do it?” said Beer.

Experts said to achieve a meaningful discussion on race that all sides must have compassion and an open mind about the sensitive and sometimes emotional issue.

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